Abu-Gosh is a Muslim Arab village with small Christian pockets, located just a few kilometers from Jerusalem on what is today, and what was historically, the main road to Jerusalem from the central and coastal regions. Historically, Christianity preceded Islam but was not continuous in the area.
Almost a walking distance away is the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community of Telz-Stone, and the 'atheist' Jewish communities of Kibbutz Kiryat-Yaarim and Kibbutz Maale-HaChamisha. A half kilometer away is the settlement Yad-HaShmona, established by Finish Christians. One kilometer to the West the Jewish settlement Neve-Ilan. On the horizon to the East, Jerusalem, sacred to Moslems, Christians and Jews.
Historically, the village of Abu-Gosh was called Kariyat El-Unab. Under Turkish Ottoman rule, the main road to Jerusalem was called The Road of the Sultan. The tribe of Abu-Gosh that settled Kariyat El-Unab were responsible for the safety of travelers to Jerusalem via The Road of the Sultan. Travelers were required to pay taxes for safe passage as well as the costs of lodging, food and water from the local spring.
Modern time roots of Jewish-Muslim coexistence, proof the two nations can live together in harmony, began in the early 20th century, with the immigration of Jews to the region from the diasporas. In the early 1920s the Palestinians attended the Islamic High Committee in Haifa. The Jerusalemite families of Husseini and Nashashibi tried to pass a decree against Jewish immigration to Palestine. Sheik Sayid Abu-Gosh, having a vision of Jewish-Arab coexistence for the benefit of both sides, voted against the decree. In 1921 Sheik Sayid Abu-Gosh sold 750 dunam of land to Jewish settlers for the establishment of Kibbutz Kiryat-Anavim. In 1935 more land was sold for the establishment of Kibbutz Maale-HaChamisha. In revenge Abed ElKader Husseini arranged the assassination of Abu-Gosh leaders. To this day, Abu-Gosh relations with major Palestinian families remain problematic. In the Arab uprising between the years 1936-1939, Abu-Gosh villagers provided food, water and protection to the surrounding Jewish settlements. In 1948 Arab villagers all over Palestine began fleeing their homes and villages in fright of massacre by the Jews. Jewish settlers around Abu-Gosh provided the village with armed guards and security. When Abed ElKader Husseini closed the road to Jerusalem at the Arab village of Kastel, it was the villagers of Abu-Gosh who found an alternate route for supplying provisions for Jews in Jerusalem, later known as The Burma Road. Abu-Gosh thus remained the only Arab village on the road to Jerusalem when the State of Israel was established in 1948. Abu-Gosh was immediately recognized by the new Israeli government and given the status of a Regional Council.
The Church of Holy Mary and The Ark of The Covenant is situated at the highest point above the Village of Abu-Gosh. It is a Catholic Church established in the 1920s by the Church of St. Joseph from the Old City in Eastern Jerusalem. It reports to the Patriarch in Nazareth and to the Vatican in Rome. The Church location and name are derived from the fact the Ark of the Covenant parked at the biblical location of Kiryat-Yaarim for about 50 years (Book of Samuel Chapter 6 & Book of Samuel II Chapter 6). The Ark remained here during the reign of The Prophet Samuel, King Saul and the first year of King David. In 1050 BC, after the defeat suffered by Israel at Apheq, the Ark of the Covenant was seized by the Philistines. They suffered many misfortunes which they believed were brought upon them for seizing the Ark and so they placed it in a cart and called the men of Kiryat-Yaarim to take it away. The Ark was kept in the house of Avinadav and then entrusted to his son Elazar. In 1000 BC, during the first year of the reign of King David he came to Kiryat-Yaarim to fetch the Ark and carried it to Jerusalem, the city he had just made the capitol of his kingdom. Then in 586 BC the Ark disappeared in the disaster that followed the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, the destruction of the Temple and exile of all the people of Israel to Babylon. The first piece of land for The Church of Holy Mary and The Ark of The Covenant was purchased on this site in 1901 by Sister Josephine Remube of The Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, the same order that live here today. In preparing the land for building the church mosaics and pillars were discovered. On further excavations the remains of a 5th century Byzantine Basilica were uncovered. The new church was completed in 1924 on the same site and foundations of the 5th century basilica. Its consecration took place on August 31, 1924. The statue of Holy Mary and Baby Jesus standing by the Ark of the Covenant can be seen from a distance. The statue was erected in 1931.
A fortified 'Tigert' British Police station, located in the strategic village of Abu-Gosh, was abandoned on April 21, 1948 with the end of the British Mandate in Palestine. The villagers of Abu-Gosh immediately notified the Harel Brigade of the Palmach who took control. This fort was the headquarters for the Harel Brigade until they moved South to the Negev in December 1948.
There are 2000 students in Abu-Gosh schools. Every year over 50% graduate high school and pass the matriculation tests. In past years more and more high school graduates continue to academic studies in Israel's universities (girls more than boys). The higher level of education has brought two more radical changes in the Arab society of Abu-Gosh; (I) The average age of marriage has risen from 15-16 for women to 19-20, and from 18-19 for men to 25-30. and (II) Average birth rate in families has decreased from 7 to 5 a few years ago and today to 3.5. Abu-Gosh residents have come a long way from the days a bride's worth was determined by her weight and ability to crack hard-shelled nuts with her teeth.
The Abu-Gosh Monastery was built in the time of the Crusaders, some 1,000 years ago, on the spot of the water spring, on the main road to Jerusalem. Today it is a Benedictian Monastery, actually divided in two separate sections, one for nuns and one for monks. The highlight of a visit to the Abu-Gosh Monastery is meeting the Asst. Chief Monk Olivier who arrived in Abu-Gosh 30 years ago after studying in a monastery in Normandy. Like other Benedictian Monks, he has vowed his services to the Abu-Gosh Monastery for life. He was drawn to Israel by the will to be as close as possible to the holy sites and by a deep passion for Israel and the plight of Jews, developed after viewing the movie Exodus at the age of 12. Olivier is charming, funny, fluent in a French accented Hebrew and very up-to-date in military slang. He brags he is the only Christian who has learned Hebrew, the language of the Jews, from Moslems. Something possible only in Israel - the land of paradoxes. The monastery is run in a self sufficient manner where every monk and nun have a function and responsibility besides prayer. Their motto; 'Ora et Labore', prey and work. Olivier's responsibilities, besides management, lye with tending to the fruit trees, olive trees and vineyard. Among the other monks are a mechanic, a medic, an accountant, several cooks and others that create pottery that is sold in a local shop in Abu-Gosh.
Main venues of income for residents of Abu-Gosh are from tourism although there is some small scale textile industry and some families that continue to work in agriculture. Numerous restaurants offer what is considered excellent hummus and are packed with clients at meal times and during the weekends. But Abu-Gosh isn't just about the hummus - it's a beautiful and welcoming village just outside Jerusalem, surrounded by a pine forest, rich in biblical and modern history and serves as a small oasis of Jewish-Muslim coexistence in a conflict torn region.